In the “Malcom in the Middle” clip currently available on Youtube entitled “Duel at the Mall” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=autftvUIxfg), two people transform a simple door-ding incident at a retail parking lot into a full blown war. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to Google and watch it. Simply put, it is one of the best examples of how, in our community relationships, imputing to one another ill intent tends to escalate conflict and cause each of us to become blind to the needs, feelings, and thoughts of others.
Mediation is—at its core—the process by which people in conflict choose to work toward a resolution of that conflict by and between themselves, rather than simply submitting the question to a third party that rarely has a stake in the issue (judge, jury, arbitrator etc.) and will make a decision that becomes binding upon all parties. Everyone involved in the legal affairs of homeowner associations have found that disputes resolved through mediation are much more likely to avoid future disputes than those left to be decided by these third party (or parties).
Mediation can be formal or informal. While often a knowledgeable third party is called upon to help the parties, the primary role of such and individual is generally to help each party understand their own point of view and see the other’s view more clearly. In essence, this is the core role of mediation.
Today, the Arbinger Institute has become one of the most recognized conflict resolution organizations in the world. In their book “Leadership and Self Deception,” Arbinger has captured the core truth stating: when we see others as objects, we become blind to the truth around us. Because that truth is captured by understanding the reality of the personhood in all of our conflict relationships, failing to see that personhood causes HOA boards to be surprised, confused, and often resentful about the actions, words, or demands of community members.
Our goal as community leaders should be first to understand, not correct our fellow community members. Mediating the myriad feelings, demands, and perceived needs of a community is a full time task. When conflict arises, our only hope of avoiding the overwhelming expense of formal dispute resolution is to prepare to mediate by listening and understanding.
I have learned as a lawyer engaged in HOA matters for over 30 years that litigation is a costly endeavor that can potentially destroy communities in some cases. Being prepared to mediate is one of the best ways we can serve our communities.